Lorenz Grollo - Mt Buller
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How do you keep a ski resort running? For Mt Buller, it started with a call to BOQ. With years of business and property finance know-how in structuring large-scale finance packages, BOQ has helped Mt Buller fund new infrastructure and major redevelopments and weather the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Established by Italian immigrant Luigi Grollo in the 1940s, Grollo Group is a family-owned property, tourism and investment company that owns and operates iconic assets including Victoria’s largest ski resort, Buller Ski Lifts (BSL).
The diverse and extensive operations under the BSL umbrella (best known as “Mt Buller”) include 22 ski lifts, a thriving Ski and Snowboard School, a childcare facility, the luxury Mt Buller Chalet Hotel & Suites and ABOM Hotel, numerous on-mountain hospitality venues, retail and rental stores, as well as a property development and maintenance business unit.
It’s a complex business that employs 800 staff, including a large seasonal workforce each winter from across Australia and around the world, with a 16-week income window that is entirely dependent on snowfall.
“Mt Buller is a very big business and very intense for short period of time. Sometimes you have a good season and sometimes you have a bad season,” says Lorenz Grollo, CEO of Grollo Group.
As anyone in the Australian snow industry will attest, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that the past two years have been particularly bad. According to the Australian Ski Areas Association, the sector lost around 90 per cent of business in 2020 and 2021 – but with early snowfalls and visitors flocking back to the mountains, 2022 is shaping up to be a good winter.
It's understanding the ebb-and-flow of a business like BSL that led Grollo Group to partner with BOQ Business for their banking needs.
“Not too many commercial operators or banks in Australia actually understand that. Through many years of seeking out the right banks and the banking relationships that we need to operate Mt Buller, we found that BOQ probably understands that more than any other,” Lorenz said.
The relationship between BSL and BOQ Business started in 2017 via an introduction from one of BOQ’s branches in Melbourne. At the time, Grollo was looking for an opportunity to divest BSL from the Group’s other interests.
Since then, BOQ has provided BSL with a full banking relationship including debt, working capital and asset finance facilities, transactional banking, and over sixty merchant terminals both on and off the mountain.
As part of the initial three-year facility, BOQ also provided equipment finance for two major infrastructure investments at Mt Buller – a $6 million Bourke Street Express chairlift (which replaced what was the world’s oldest operating four-seater lift) in 2019, and the addition of three innovative “snowfactories” between 2017 and 2019.
While the new six-seater, high-speed chairlift has enhanced the skier experience with a faster ride to the top of Bourke Street and child-friendly safety bars and footrests, the snowfactory technology allows Mt Buller to produce snow 24/7 and keep trading when nature has failed to deliver.
“We’ve taken the time to understand the complexities of Mt Buller’s operations – and in particular the cashflow and investment challenges facing a seasonal and highly weather-dependent business,” said Simon Davis, Head of Corporate Banking, Queensland, BOQ Business.
When COVID-19 lockdowns and border closures forced a complete shutdown of the ski season in 2020 and low visitation numbers in 2021, BOQ had BSL’s back with the provision of working capital and funding support to weather the storm that no-one saw coming.
“The team at BOQ had an open mind, were inspired and very keen to actually better understand our business and try and get the job done,” said Lorenz.
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